Court accepts agribusiness’ defamation lawsuit against human rights defenders

On 12 September, South Bangkok Criminal Court accepted a defamation lawsuit filed by Thammakaset Co Ltd, the 39th of its kind, against Angkhana Neelapaijit, Puttanee Kangkun, and Thanaporn Saleephol over their tweets about labour rights violations at their farm.

From left to right: Thanaporn Saleephol, Angkhana Neelapaijit, and Puttanee Kangkun

The Court later freed the three on bail, according to defence lawyer Sor Rattanamanee Polkla’s Facebook post.

Tittasat Soodsan, another defence lawyer, told Prachatai that the case was originally filed in 2019 as 4 separate cases, 2 against Angkhana and one each against Puttanee and Thanaporn. The plaintiff’s lawyer later in the same year proposed to the Court merging the cases into one, to which the Court agreed.

All the cases stem from sharing 2 twitter posts and 3 retweets to support other defendants who had been sued by the company. The 5 tweets contain a link to an open letter related to defamation cases that Thammakaset has filed. The open letter in turn contains a link related to a Fortify Rights video about labour rights. The video has been the subject of a defamation suit.

Tittasat said bail was allowed without any security, but the defendants have to attend every Court hearing, the next being scheduled for 14 November for trial and evidence examination.

Thammakaset’s barrage of lawsuits came after 14 Myanmar workers submitted to the National Human Rights Commission a petition claiming that they were made to work for below-minimum wages without overtime pay and that their documents had been seized by their employer. The company sued them in October 2019 for defamation but the case was dropped.

The company later sued at least one academic, six human rights advocates, and one journalist for either producing or recycling information about its alleged labour rights violations. 

The company’s strategy has stirred criticism and condemnation from human rights organisations, who see it as Strategic Lawsuits against Public Participation (SLAPP), or lawsuits that are filed to stop people from addressing public issues.

In March 2020, a group of UN experts condemned the continued misuse of the judicial process by Thammakaset to harass and silence human rights defenders who have spoken out against its abusive and exploitative labour practices.

“We are deeply troubled by the information we continue to receive about migrant workers, human rights defenders, academics and journalists facing ill-founded defamation cases by the company Thammakaset when they raise legitimate concerns about working conditions in this company,” the experts said.

Tittasat said the lawyers on Monday submitted to the Court a request to drop the case, citing the lawsuit as judicial harassment under Section 161/1 of Criminal Procedure Code that allows the Courts to dismiss a case if it finds that it has been filed to harass another. The Court dismissed the request, saying they still did not have enough information to confirm this.

The Court’s decision again brings into question how the provisions under Section 161/1 are implemented in practice. Tittasat has asked the Courts to consider this provision in many SLAPP cases but never succeeded. 

“In the past, we used [Section 161/1] in every case. There has never been a Court ruling that the lawsuit was dishonest,” said Tittasat.

Advertisements

Since 2007, Prachatai English has been covering underreported issues in Thailand, especially about democratization and human rights, despite the risk and pressure from the law and the authorities. However, with only 2 full-time reporters and increasing annual operating costs, keeping our work going is a challenge. Your support will ensure we stay a professional media source and be able to expand our team to meet the challenges and deliver timely and in-depth reporting.

• Simple steps to support Prachatai English

1. Bank transfer to account “โครงการหนังสือพิมพ์อินเทอร์เน็ต ประชาไท” or “Prachatai Online Newspaper” 091-0-21689-4, Krungthai Bank

2. Or, Transfer money via Paypal, to e-mail address: service@prachatai.com, please leave a comment on the transaction as “For Prachatai English”